Richmond residents cheered and clapped Tuesday night when the City Council rejected a proposal to move a medical marijuana dispensary from Richmond’s Hilltop area to 425 South Second Street, near the Santa Fe neighborhood. Residents expressed strong opposition about the move claiming that the dispensary would be too close to a residential area and that it would increase crime in the neighborhood.
City Council voted 4-2 against the move. Councilmember Nathaniel Bates abstained.
“We want to show support to medical marijuana but want to honor neighborhoods who don’t want it,” said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin while rejecting the application.
The City of Richmond approved a business permit in the Hilltop area for the Richmond Compassionate Care Collective (RCCC) in December 2011 but Executive Director John Valdez decided not to open his dispensary because it was too close to a school. Federal prosecutors were raiding dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools at that time and Valdez was concerned his pot club would suffer the same fate, he said. Since then, Valdez has been looking for a new location for his dispensary.
At the meeting Tuesday, Valdez said the location near Santa Fe best fits the dispensary and is one mile away from a residential area. “It is isolated and away from the public eye. It is an industrial area. There will be security guards patrolling the business.”
A large group of Richmond residents gathered to speak against the move. Don Woodrow, president of Richmond’s Neighborhood Coordinating Council, was among the 20 speakers. He argued the area was close to a residential area and therefore not suitable for a dispensary.
“Why should they come to a residential area? Police aren’t there all the time to guard it,” said Woodrow who lives one mile from the site.
To address residents’ safety concerns, Valdez said that he would provide 24-hour security.
“I believe in the community. If they don’t want it, you have to go somewhere else,” said councilmember Jovanka Beckles.
Before the meeting Tuesday, Richmond resident Nina G. Smith posted a letter on Facebook to express her opposition, explaining that it sets a dangerous precedent because the dispensary would be based close to residential areas where young people play on the streets.
“As a person with over 28 years of recovery from marijuana addiction myself, I can assure you that marijuana use can not only lead to addiction but it can have substantially detrimental impacts on the intellectual, psychological and social development of young people,” said Smith.
She said allowing such dispensaries to move into mixed residential or commercial areas where they will operate in plain view of neighborhood residents, including children, is irresponsible.
In a letter to City Council, Mark A. Peterson, district attorney of Contra Costa County, said he strongly opposes marijuana dispensaries all together.
“Federal law enforcement officials have indicated these marijuana dispensaries are unlawful under federal law, state courts have ruled them illegal, and according to the standards set forth in the Compassionate Use Act, the marijuana dispensaries as currently operating in this country or proposed appear to be operating illegally.”
As she walked out of City Hall Tuesday, Cynthia Haden, a resident of the Santa Fe neighborhood smiled.
“I am very happy, the City Council has rejected the application.”